Photographer or Dance Photographer?

These days, the cost of good photography equipment is lower than ever.  That’s great because it’s easier to take good photos than ever before.  Unfortunately, it’s also easier to take bad photos better than ever before. (Never thought about that, did you?).  Anyone with a camera can take a photo of a dancer, but why do some dance photos look so much better than others?

Believe it or not, the average professional photographer (much less amateur!) can’t take great dance photos and here are five reasons why.

1.     Speed.  You really need a camera that can operate at very high speed. The high shutter speed means that the motion will be frozen with no blur. 

2.     Shots per jump.  My old (very good quality pro camera) gave me maybe three shots during a typical dancer’s jump.  It seems like a lot, but I recently upgraded to one that would give me six or seven frames per jump.  If you want the jump caught at the absolute peak height, which do you think is better?  More frames per jump means more chances to get the perfect shot.

3.     Lighting.  Portrait photographers light their subjects to NOT show every wrinkle and shadow on a subject.  Dance photographers are trying to bring out every muscle, and that means lighting in a way that is absolutely wrong for portraits. 

4.     Facial tension.  The biggest indicator of either an inexperienced photographer or an inexperienced dancer is the facial expression in the final shot.  Dancers screw their faces up during difficult moves, but viewers don’t notice it until the camera captures it.  An experienced dancer will do it less, but it’s up to the photographer to watch for that about-to-be-hit-in-the-face look.  A pro will redo the shot until every element is perfect and the dancer’s face looks relaxed.

5.     Sickle feet.  That’s shorthand for everything that could possibly be “incorrect” in a dance photo.  Your ballet hands could be off.  Your turnout could be mediocre.  Your knee could be bent just a tiny bit too much.  A non-dance photographer can’t see the tiny details that are particular to dance and can ruin a photo.  A professional dance photographer sees them as they’re happening and shows you on the back of the camera to allow you to make changes during the shoot.  Your final photos are perfect because your dance photographer knew what to look for.

If you’re choosing a photographer to capture all those hours of hard work, be sure to find one who specializes in dance so you will get the most for your money.